The iPhone 4 reviewed

5 Aug 2010

First things first. Let’s deal with the reception issues associated with the iPhone 4. Unfortunately, the fact Apple CEO Steve Jobs initially denied any problems with the antenna, then said other smartphone manufacturers had similar issues, did not help matters.

Nor did the fact he told us we were holding it wrong. There were those who watched gleefully as Jobs ate humble pie at an Apple press conference where it was announced that ‘bumpers’, or covers, would be given free of charge to iPhone 4 owners in order to cover up the antenna, which is built into the metal band around the phone.

The truth is, reception on the iPhone 4 is actually significantly better than the 3G S. Holding them side by side, the iPhone 4 consistently displayed higher bars than the 3G S. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that cupping the handset tightly can degrade signal strength and lead to dropped calls.

iPhone 4 display

On to the display: I was quite impressed when I found out that the glass used in the display and the back of the phone is the same aluminosilicate kind used in helicopter windshields, but the high-definition display really does knock you for six. Apple calls this the ‘Retina’ display and it is just about higher in resolution than Samsung’s Galaxy S. This crisp display leaves you feeling as though someone has smeared Vaseline over the screen of the 3G S, such is the difference in definition.

iphone 4

The metallic edging and high defintion screen sets the iPhone 4 apart from previous models

As a short-sighted individual it brings to mind my first pair of glasses. You think, ‘Ah, this is what I’ve been missing out on,’ but before you think I’m worshipping at the altar of Apple I will say that it won’t be long before you see this quality on many other smartphones (or already on the Galaxy S).

I took a screenshot from the 3G S and viewed it on the iPhone 4 and it looked quite pixelated. Apple sure knows how to make you feel like trading up.

Apps developers are catching up in dribs and drabs so some of your apps will appear similarly pixelated while others are adjusting to the newfound clarity. This visual improvement follows through with the camera, which is now 5-megapixels with an LED flash and shoots HD video. And the front-facing camera means you can take vanity shots for your Facebook profile.

iPhone 4 FaceTime

But wait. FaceTime is what you’ve been waiting for. Video calls. I made video calls years ago on my Motorola. This isn’t something new, it’s just that Apple does it better. Over a Wi-Fi connection you can chat to your buddies in high res and switch cameras so that they can see what’s in front of you. It’s neat but not something I will be using that much.

I found the addition of a gyroscope more appealing because while I’m not a gamer I am a mobile-phone gamer. I have the Rubik’s Cube app and with the gyroscope I can swing the phone around to see the cube from all angles while solving it. This is a lot cooler than it sounds and has huge implications for the future of mobile gaming. Demo-ing this feature got lots of oohs and aahs from impressed friends. One friend of mine, who admitted that the iPhone had never really appealed to him before, said he really liked the look and feel of the new handset. It does seem to bring out the magpie in people.

But rather then being simply shiny and pretty what my decidedly tech-brand agnostic friend felt was that it was a more solid build and I have to agree. This time around the luxury associations with Apple products seem more, well, solid.

“I hope the extra weight means more battery life,” said my friend.

iPhone 4 battery life

One thing that iPhone users have complained about with the 3G and 3G S models in the past is the battery life. On a full charge, and with plenty of internet, email, chat and general app usage, frankly, you would be lucky to get a full day out of it. Having fully powered up the iPhone 4, I can say that this is a marked improvement on previous models. The battery was still going over 30 hours after its charge and I was checking email, surfing the web a lot, making calls, tweeting and all of the things you’re wont to do on your smartphone.

While the enthusiastic consumer may be swayed by the shiny exterior and high-definition screen, the average businessperson, whose iPhone is now part of their daily routine, will probably buy it for this improvement alone. Thank you, Apple, for improving on the battery life but a minor scolding is in order for the fact that this wasn’t the case with the older models.

Will it encourage a non-iPhone user to rush out and buy one? Not any more than the previous models would. Should you upgrade from the iPhone 3G S/3G? Bear in mind that swapping over your old SIM is not an option as the iPhone 4 takes those tiny new micro-SIMs. However, be warned: if you get a chance to play with someone else’s iPhone 4 you may not be able to resist.

SIM-free: 16GB model, €599, 32GB model, €699.

3: From free to €309 (depending on monthly price plan).

O2: From free to €359 (depending on monthly price plan).

Vodafone: From €69 to €379 (depending on monthly price plan).